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LIGHT IT UP

About The Production
"I thought it would be interesting to make a film about inner-city high school students from their point of view," comments "Light It Up" writer-director Craig Bolotin. "In most films set in a high school, the adult is the protagonist — a principal or teacher would come into a troubled school and change the students' lives. In 'Light It Up' the students take responsibility for their actions, and I thought that would make an interesting story."

Bolotin was also inspired by his research, which took him to high schools throughout the country. "I spent a lot of time in classrooms, just sitting in the back, talking to teachers and interviewing students," he recalls.

A friend of Bolotin's was yet another influence on the story, particularly on the character of Ziggy, the young artist whose troubled home life leads him to take refuge in the school's attic. "My friend had a difficult time with his parents, and he actually lived for a few weeks in a high school before he was discovered," remembers the director.

For producer Tracey E. Edmonds and executive producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, the story's themes were a major draw. "The script covers a lot of important issues," states Tracey. "It deals with the importance of education, the disparity of the educational system, and says that kids should not have to fight to get a decent education."

The Edmondses also appreciated the story's fast-paced action and vivid characters. Their and Bolotin's casting vision came from a surprising source: John Hughes' popular 1985 teen drama "The Breakfast Club," an ensemble piece which depicted the interactions among a disparate group of suburban high school students. Says Tracey, "We saw 'Light It Up' as an urban 'Breakfast Club', so we wanted to put together the right combination of actors, making sure that their chemistry was going to work." (Adding to the "Breakfast Club"-"Light It Up" connection, the Edmondses and Bolotin cast "Breakfast Club" alumnus Judd Nelson as the compassionate teacher, Mr. Knowles. "We thought that would be a nice little twist," notes Tracey.)

The filmmakers were convinced that Usher Raymond could handle the acting rigors required by what would be his first starring role in a motion picture. "Usher just explodes with charisma," observes Kenny Edmonds, who has been working on music projects with the young star for several years. "He has such confidence in everything he does. Usher is a very hard worker; he gives everything 200 percent as a singer. So I expected nothing less from him as an actor."

Craig Bolotin concurs. " Usher turned out to be a real actor and not a singer who's moonlighting as an actor," he notes." He was very committed to the film and to understanding his role. Lester is a difficult part, but Usher really got the character and played it beautifully."

Raymond embraced the opportunities afforded by the role. "I've always loved music," he says, "but there's so much more to being an entertainer than singing and dancing. To be a triple threat you have to have the acting. So I figured I'll take the step. And 'Light It Up' gave me the chance to really get into it."

Raymond sees the character of Lester as a complex and sympathetic figure. "For someone so young, Lester is carrying an awful lot," he says. "He's had a difficult and challenging life, dealing with family issues or the problems of his friends at school. Lester has a very open heart; he's very caring and giving."

Up-and-coming actress Rosario Dawson has a number of film credits to her name. After reading the script, the native New Yorker jumped at the chance to play Stephanie. "The script caught my interest because it spoke about things I very much cared about, like the problems of our inner-city schools and the fact that not ne

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